Suicide reduction target back on the agenda

This article deals with mental health problems, including suicide.

The Government is likely to reverse its position and adopt a suicide reduction target - but not until after the election.

A target of reducing New Zealand's shockingly high suicide rates by 20 percent over 10 years was rejected earlier this year, despite expert recommendation. NZME reported there were fears of accountability if it wasn't reached, citing email correspondence between mental health advisers and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman.

  • If you wish to talk to someone about mental illness or domestic violence, you can call Lifeline on 0800 543 354, the Depression Helpline on 0800 111 757 or the National Telehealth Service on 1737.

In the past year more than 600 people killed themselves, a new high for New Zealand, which already has the one of the highest suicide rates in the Western world.

Asked about the target on The Nation on Saturday, Dr Coleman said the Government has "shifted" its thinking.

"After the election, if we are reelected, we will think about that target again," he told host Patrick Gower. "I don't think there's any harm in having a target."

He wouldn't confirm what new figure would be considered, except that 20 percent "sounds like a reasonable target".

"It has to be aspirational and it has to galvanise the workforce and the sector."

Labour health spokesman David Clark, also on The Nation, said Labour would implement the target right away.

"Every New Zealander I speak to up and down the country is telling me they know someone in their family or their circle of friends who's affected by a mental health issue, and the Government's not been taking it seriously. We won't take nine years to take mental health seriously."

He says demand for mental health services has gone up 60 percent in the past decade, but funding has only gone up about half that.

"In Nelson-Marlborough there are people waiting two weeks, who are suicidal, for a psychological assessment. That's not OK."

He blames growing inequality, citing a 2014 OECD report which said it had grown faster in New Zealand over the previous 25 years than anywhere else.

Then-Finance Minister Bill English disputed the report's conclusions, and then-Prime Minister John Key called it "out of date".

Dr Coleman instead said the growing demand was the result of greater awareness thanks to brave figures like John Kirwan, and social media.

"Inequality is lessening, not growing. We live in a very complex society. Increased social media creates a lot of pressure on people. Social isolation, changes to family structures. This is what is being seen internationally."